Ph.D. Alumni Profiles: INTERVIEWS WITH OUR ALUMNI AROUND THE WORLD
Cem Mete (PhD, Class of 2000) is a senior economist at the World Bank, working on social protection projects in the South Asia region. Prior to South Asia, Cem worked on poverty, labor, education and health issues in the Europe and Central Asia region. He has authored a number of academic articles on these topics, published in the Economics of Education Review, Economic Development and Cultural Review, Health Economics, Population and Development Review among others. Cem is also the lead author of the book titled Economic Implications of Chronic Illness and Disability. He received a Ph.D. in economics from the State University of New York at Stony Brook and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the Yale University before joining the World Bank.
Qihong Liu (PhD, Class of 2003) is currently an Associate Professor, Department of Economics at the University of Oklahoma. Qihong's latest paper, "Competing with Complementors: An Empirical Look at Amazon.com" (with Feng Zhu), is featured in "When Platforms Attack," Harvard Business Review, in October 2015.
Interview with Frank Heiland. (PhD, Class of 2006). Frank got tenure at FSU in 2010 and he is now at Baruch-College (CUNY) where he moved at the end of 2009. Frank recently got a prestigious Sandell Grant on Retirement Research from Boston College's Center for Retirement Research.
Frank Heiland, an associate Professor of Economics at Florida State University (congratulations on your tenure Frank), is doing research in labor economics and population economics. His most current research areas are child development, contemporary European fertility, female labor supply, retirement and Social Security Reform in the US, East-West German migration, and obesity. Frank uses a variety of econometric methods and modeling approaches including panel data methods, simultaneous hazard models, agent-based simulations, and simulation and estimation of life-cycle models.
He has received a grant from the National Institute of Health to study the role of
birth order for child development and attainment. This project developed from one
area of his thesis work at Stony Brook. More detail and some of his articles can be
found on Frank's website
Q: When did you get your Ph.D. from Stony Brook, and how did you decide to study at SB?
A: I received the Ph.D. in 2002. I came to Stony Brook as an exchange student from Germany in 1996. I was a non-degree student at the time which allowed me to take both graduate and undergraduate courses in Economics. I socialized a lot with the PhD students and enjoyed the intense learning environment in the graduate program. I applied to the PhD program and was accepted with funding. I became part of the incoming class in 1997.
Q: Who did you work with, and what was your thesis about?
A: I worked with Warren Sanderson and Mark Montgomery. I also received advice from Chris Swann and Hugo Benitez-Silva, two labor economists (Chris has left the Department). In my thesis I analyzed the effects of fertility and female labor supply behavior on child health and cognitive development. I developed a framework that embeds child-quality production functions in a life-cycle model of fertility and female labor supply. I solved the structural model numerically and estimated it using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (1979 cohort). The research builds on work by Gary Becker, James Heckman and John Rust (among many others).
Q: How would you describe your years in the Ph.D. program at Stony Brook?
A: I remember the course work in the first two years was challenging. I benefited from the interaction with my fellow students. I was happy when I got the chance to work on my own projects, which started in the second year. I started writing course papers and that was the part that I enjoyed the most. My first paper was on quantity and quality of children for the demography course by Warren Sanderson. Combining my interests in the economics of fertility and numerical methods (in particular dynamic programming), I developed a life-cycle model of fertility for the course paper in the econometrics course by Mark Montgomery. In the model that I prgrammed and simulated, child quality depends on resources and older siblings can substitute for parental inputs in the production of quality. That was a lot of fun and Mark liked it!
Thinking of it now, I realize that the ideas in these two course papers are also important in the life-cycle framework that became my thesis. Nevertheless it was far from a linear development from my course work to the thesis. I tried several things (e.g., I also wrote two articles on East-West German migration) and shifted the emphasis of my thesis project at least twice. Being familiar with a variety of areas and methods has helped me, and many of the ideas that I had when working on the dissertation have become areas of research that I have pursued since then.
Q: What do you do now?
A: I am an assistant professor (tenure track) at Florida State University.
I am doing research in labor economics and population economics. Areas that I am currently working on are child health and development, contemporary European fertility, female labor supply, retirement and Social Security Reform in the US, East-West German migration, and obesity.
At Florida State University, I am teaching Labor Economics and Computational Economics to PhD students. At the undergraduate level I have taught Introductory Micro and Intermediate Macro. I also serve on committees for PhD dissertations and have directed Honor's theses.
Q: What is the difference between population economics and demography?
A: Population economics uses economic concepts to understand demographic processes and phenomena such as fertility and migration. For example, in my research on East-West German migration after the fall of the Berlin Wall I show that (expected) income differentials across regions can explain a great deal of the location choice of migrants from East Germany.
Q: How was your experience at Stony Brook helping you in your current job?
A: I enjoyed my years at Stony Brook a lot. Since I only had two years of economics training prior to coming to Stony Brook, I can honestly say that almost everything I learned about economics and demography is the result of my courses and my interaction with students and faculty at Stony Brook. As an Assistant Professor at Florida State University I am continuing my active research agenda. The Stony Brook Ph.D. helped me to get this job and the program prepared me for the dual responsibility of research and teaching. I consider myself very fortunate, I was given the opportunity at a relatively young age to join the Ph.D. program here and have worked (am working) with very creative and productive scholars like Warren Sanderson and Mark Montgomery.
Q: What is your opinion of the department of economics at Stony Brook as of the Spring of 2006?
A: Stony Brook Economics has undergone a lot of changes since 1996 (the year I came). Many faculty members were not retained. Fortunately, last year new faculty has been recruited and I hope that the department can continue to grow in the future.
Q: Do you keep in touch with the professors in the Economics Department?
A: Yes. I have two projects with professors here at Stony Brook. I work with Warren Sanderson on issues of low fertility in contemporary Europe. At this point we have two articles. For one I have recently completed a first round of revisions for Demography, the leading journal in demography. The second one will be submitted shortly.
I also work with Hugo Benitez-Silva on the Social Security Earnings Test. Americans who claim Social Security benefits before the Normal Retirement Age face reduced benefits and get taxed on their benefits at a rate of 50% if they earn above the Earnings Test Limit. It is less well known that the benefits that are withheld in that case are not lost but the rate of future benefits is increased depending on the benefits witheld. We are the first to study the implication of these incentives provided by current Social Security policies on labor force participation and benefit claiming. We have completed revisions of two articles for economic journals and are working on a third article. The research involves both estimation of empirical models as well as simulation of life-cycle models.
Q: Knowing what you know now, would you enroll again in the Ph.D. program in Economics at Stony Brook?
A: Definitely yes.
Q: What would you say to a prospective student considering Stony Brook to study their Ph.D. in Economics?
A: Give it serious consideration! Stony Brook Economics offers close interaction between students and faculty. It provides a good learning environment including a diverse group of fellow PhD students. I greatly benefited from that and have close ties with several former students. Also, NYC is just an hour away by car!
Q: I heard that when you were on the job market, some faculty member helped you in the preparation to present your work in another universities. Can you tell us about it?
A: Hugo Benitez-Silva helped me get on the seminar schedule at CUNY graduate center in Manhattan. In November 2001, not long after 9/11 actually, I gave a seminar there. I benefited from this experience because a lot of researchers from the New York area were present. It was almost like a job talk and I got a lot of feedback that day. In particular, Michael Grossman was present. He made good points and asked some tough questions. I also gave a practise job talk at Stony Brook. On the market, I visited six institutions in North America, and every seminar was a bit different.
When a student is ready to go on the job market they should take advantage of any opportunity to present in hour-long seminars outside the department. Conference presentations are 15-30 minutes, usually with few interruptions, but the job talk goes up to 90 minutes and can be very lively. So it is a good practice to present in seminars in addition to conferences.
Q: Finish this sentence: Stony Brook is ____________.
A: A great place to study Economics.